Joel Chandler Harris was born in Eatonton, Georgia on December 9, 1845 to single mother Mary Ann Harris. His father deserted the family shortly after Harris’s birth. They were never married, and his illegitimate birth haunted Harris for his life. A local doctor named Dr. Andrew Reid befriended Mary Ann Harris and her young son. He allowed them to live in a small cottage behind his mansion. Mary Ann Harris encouraged her son to read extensively, especially Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield.
Dr. Andrew Reid again helped out the Harris family when he paid for Harris’s tuition at Kate Davidson’s local academy for boys and girls. Later, Harris attended the Eatonton Academy for boys. He was a voracious reader. As a schoolboy, Harris was often teased for his red hair, freckles, and stammer. He was shy, but loved practical jokes as a defensive technique. Even into his adult life, Harris was insecure and introverted.
In March 1862, 16-year-old Harris went to work on the Turnwold plantation. Joseph Addison Turner owned the plantation and the plantation’s newspaper, The Countryman. Turner’s goal at Turnwold was “to cultivate corn, cotton, and literature” (Bickley). Harris worked for four years as a printer’s devil. He received a draft exemption during the Civil War because of his small size and his work at newspaper loyal to the Southern cause that aided the war effort. Turner educated Harris, recommending books from Edgar Allan Poe to Dickens and Shakespeare, all of which could be found in his massive personal library. Harris learned to write by hand-setting newspaper type and began publishing poems and book reviews for The Countryman. While at Turnwold, Harris also befriended the slaves Uncle George Terrell, Old Harbert, and Aunt Crissy, who told him African American folklore and animal stories.
Turnwold was Harris’s “Europe,” in a sense. At Turnwold, Harris began to learn the intricacies of literature. At Turnwold, Harris met the slaves who would influence...
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